Criminal Justice Essays

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Criminal justice and criminology developed from two major fields of study: the law and sociology. While related, the two terms are distinct. Criminology is the study of crime, including its costs, causes, and consequences. In contrast, criminal justice is the study of system in which behavior is designated as criminal and then those crimes are detected, tried, and punished. While criminology focuses primarily on the social aspects of crime, criminal justice focuses primarily on the legal aspects of crime. However, the relationship between law and society is well-established. Not only do social norms and values help dictate what behaviors are considered criminal, but also the designation of behaviors as illegal or legal helps dictate what a society views as moral and ethical. Therefore, criminal justice and criminology majors need to have a thorough understanding of both fields.

Criminology is a branch of sociology. There are three sociological approaches to crime: the Classical School, the Positivist School, and the Chicago School. While only formally studied in recent times, social theories about criminology have been circulating since the development of legal systems and laws. Criminologists look at how society impacts criminality, but also how criminality impacts society. More specifically, criminologists look at the broader details of crimes to draw cultural conclusions about criminal behaviors, values, and norms. They specifically look at: where crimes occur, what types of crimes occur, why those crimes happen, how frequently those crimes happen, the consequences of crime for offenders, the consequences of crime for victims, the consequences of crime for society as whole, and how the government responds to criminal behavior. For example, the American criminal justice system was established to ensure that criminal defendants had certain constitutional protections, but victim advocacy groups have lobbied to ensure that victims also have some rights in the criminal prosecution process. Victim impact statements are one way that victims are able to have an influence in the criminal justice process.

In contrast, criminal justice looks at the various systems in place that define, detect, and punish criminal behavior. Criminal justice is considered by many to be synonymous with law enforcement, but the criminal justice system actually encompasses more than just law enforcement. There are three major components in the criminal justice system: law enforcement, courts, and corrections. Each component plays a role in preventing and punishing behavior that is deemed illegal. A non-specified component of the criminal justice system is the legislature, which not only determines which behaviors are considered illegal, but also the consequences for those illegal behaviors, including the range of potential punishments for those who engage in those behaviors. Law enforcement officers, also known as police officers, serve three roles in the criminal justice system: crime prevention, crime detection, and identification and apprehension of criminals. The court systems, which consists of the courts themselves, as well as the prosecuting and defense attorneys, judges, and juries, determine whether the suspect is guilty, and sentence them to their punishments. The corrections system refers to any part of the post-sentencing process that is responsible for carrying out sentencing. Prisons, jails, halfway houses, prison guards, corrections officers, probation officers, and parole officers are all part of the corrections system.